Ngaio Marsh

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Ngaio Marsh
Ngaio Marsh circa 1935
Ngaio Marsh circa 1935
BornEdith Ngaio Marsh
(1895-04-23)23 April 1895
Christchurch, New Zealand
Died18 February 1982(1982-02-18) (aged 86)
Christchurch, New Zealand
OccupationWriter, theatre director
LanguageEnglish
GenreCrime fiction
Literary movementGolden Age of Detective Fiction
 
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Ngaio Marsh
Ngaio Marsh circa 1935
Ngaio Marsh circa 1935
BornEdith Ngaio Marsh
(1895-04-23)23 April 1895
Christchurch, New Zealand
Died18 February 1982(1982-02-18) (aged 86)
Christchurch, New Zealand
OccupationWriter, theatre director
LanguageEnglish
GenreCrime fiction
Literary movementGolden Age of Detective Fiction

Dame Ngaio Marsh DBE (/ˈn./; 23 April 1895 – 18 February 1982), born Edith Ngaio Marsh, was a New Zealand crime writer and theatre director. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966.

Internationally Marsh is known primarily for her creation Inspector Roderick Alleyn, a gentleman detective who works for the Metropolitan Police (London). Thus she is one of the "Queens of Crime" alongside Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Gladys Mitchell, and Margery Allingham.

Youth[edit]

Ngaio Marsh with her two dolls in ca 1905
Ngaio Marsh (school prefect) in her St. Margaret's College school uniform, between 1910 and 1914

Marsh was born in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, where she also died. Her father neglected to register her birth until 1900 and there is some uncertainty about the date.[1]

She was educated at St Margaret's College in Christchurch, where she was one of the first students when the school was founded. She studied painting at the Canterbury College (NZ) School of Art before joining the Allan Wilkie company as an actress and touring New Zealand. From 1928 she divided her time between living in New Zealand and in the United Kingdom.[2]

Career[edit]

Internationally she is best known for her 32 detective novels published between 1934 and 1982. Along with Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Agatha Christie, she has been classed as one of the four original "Queens of Crime"—female writers who dominated the crime fiction genre in the Golden Age of the 1920s and 1930s.

All her novels feature British CID detective Roderick Alleyn. Several novels feature Marsh's other loves, the theatre and painting. A number are set around theatrical productions (Enter a Murderer, Vintage Murder, Overture to Death, Opening Night, Death at the Dolphin, and Light Thickens), and two others are about actors off stage (Final Curtain and False Scent). Her short story "'I Can Find My Way Out" is also set around a theatrical production and is the earlier "Jupiter case" referred to in Opening Night. Alleyn marries a painter, Agatha Troy, whom he meets during an investigation (Artists in Crime), and who features in several later novels.

Most of the novels are set in England, but four are set in New Zealand, with Alleyn either on secondment to the New Zealand police (Colour Scheme, and Died in the Wool), or on holiday (Vintage Murder and Photo Finish); Surfeit of Lampreys begins in New Zealand but continues in London.

Theatre[edit]

Marsh's great passion was the theatre. In 1942 she produced a modern-dress Hamlet for the Canterbury University College Drama Society (now UCDS), the first of many Shakespearean productions with the society until 1969. In 1944, Hamlet and a production of Othello toured a theatre-starved New Zealand to rapturous acclaim. In 1949, assisted by entrepreneur Dan O'Connor, her student players toured Australia with a new version of Othello and Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. In the 1950s she was involved with the New Zealand Players, a relatively short-lived national professional touring repertory company.

She lived long enough to see New Zealand set up with a viable professional theatre industry with realistic Arts Council support, with many of her protégés to the forefront. The 430-seat Ngaio Marsh Theatre at the University of Canterbury is named in her honour.[3] Her home on the Cashmere Hills is preserved as a museum.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Marsh never married or had children. In 1965 she published an autobiography, Black Beech and Honeydew. British author and publisher Margaret Lewis wrote an authorized biography, Ngaio Marsh, A Life in 1991. New Zealand art historian Joanne Drayton's biography, Ngaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime was published in 2008.

Bibliography[edit]

Detective novels[edit]

All 32 novels feature Inspector Alleyn of the Criminal Investigation Department, Metropolitan Police (London). The series is chronological: published and probably written in order of the fictional history.[5]

  1. A Man Lay Dead (1934)
  2. Enter a Murderer (1935)
  3. The Nursing Home Murder (1935)
  4. Death in Ecstasy (1936)
  5. Vintage Murder (1937)
  6. Artists in Crime (1938)
  7. Death in a White Tie (1938)
  8. Overture to Death (1939)
  9. Death at the Bar (1940)
  10. Surfeit of Lampreys (1941); Death of a Peer in the U.S.
  11. Death and the Dancing Footman (1942)
  12. Colour Scheme (1943)
  13. Died in the Wool (1945)
  14. Final Curtain (1947)
  15. Swing Brother Swing (1949); A Wreath for Rivera in the U.S.
  16. Opening Night (1951); Night at the Vulcan in the U.S.
  17. Spinsters in Jeopardy (1954); abridged later in the U.S. as The Bride of Death (1955)
  18. Scales of Justice (1955)
  19. Off With His Head (1957); Death of a Fool in the U.S.
  20. Singing in the Shrouds (1959)
  21. False Scent (1960)
  22. Hand in Glove (1962)
  23. Dead Water (1964)
  24. Death at the Dolphin (1967); Killer Dolphin in the U.S.
  25. Clutch of Constables (1968)
  26. When in Rome (1970)
  27. Tied Up in Tinsel (1972)
  28. Black As He's Painted (1974)
  29. Last Ditch (1977)
  30. Grave Mistake (1978)
  31. Photo Finish (1980)
  32. Light Thickens (1982)

Short fiction[edit]

Death on the Air and Other Stories, first published in 1995 (U.K.), includes five short fictions in the Alleyn series, three previously published stories and two original biographical essays.

Roderick Alleyn
Other stories

Non-fiction[edit]

Adaptations[edit]

Four of the Alleyn novels were adapted for television in New Zealand and aired there in 1977 under the title Ngaio Marsh Theatre.[6] Nine were adapted as The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries and aired by the BBC in 1993 and 1994 (the pilot originally in 1990).[citation needed]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]